Know Your Liver
What does my liver look like?
Liver – The liver is dark reddish brown in colour and situated on the upper right side of your abdomen under your ribs. It weighs about 1.6 kilos and is about 12 cm thick, 20 cm across and 17 cms down. It has two lobes, is shaped somewhat like a scalene triangle and plays a vital role in the metabolic system. The two lobes are made up of many lobules which connect to small ducts. These small ducts connect to larger ducts and eventually to the hepatic duct. The hepatic duct transports the bile produced by the liver to the gall bladder and duodenum. Blood from the digestive system must filter through the liver for detoxification before it travels anywhere else in the body. The liver has a unique dual blood supply- one comes from the portal vein and the other from the hepatic artery. It receives the nutrient rich blood that comes from the intestines (portal blood) and also receives oxygenated blood that comes from the lungs, heart and aortic artery. They travel together in the liver via tiny blood vessels in tracts which are called portal tracts.
Gall Bladder – The gall bladder is a muscular bag about 8cms long that is tucked within the lobes of the liver. It stores the bile from the liver between meals. Eating a meal causes the gall bladder to contract and squeeze the bile into the bile duct and then into the small intestine. It helps with the digestion of fat. If the gall bladder becomes diseased, it can be removed without disturbing the digestive process. In such a case, the bile flows directly from the liver via the bile duct into the small intestine.
Pancreas – The pancreas, a wedge shaped gland located just behind the stomach is about 15.3cm in length. It releases digestive juices into the small intestine and discharges insulin to control the amount of sugar in the blood.
What does my liver do?
The liver is one of the most vital components of the digestive system. It provides a continuous source of energy for the whole body. It receives nutrient enriched blood supply from the portal system and processes and redistributes metabolic fluids like glucose and fatty acids. Numerous biochemical functions happen within the liver. It is responsible for the modification and detoxification of compounds absorbed from the small intestine. The liver is also a gland. It releases a substance called bile which helps digestion. The bile is stored in the gall bladder between meals but is discharged into the intestine when we eat so that it can help to metabolize the food.
Why is my liver so important?
The liver is the only organ in the body which can regenerate. If sections of the liver are removed, it will grow back to its normal size within a few weeks. This is why liver transplants are possible from living donors. It is the biochemical warehouse of your body. It converts glucose to starch for storage. It helps to clear your blood from drugs, alcohol and chemicals. It is your chemical factory for synthesizing proteins and cholesterol.
Your liver performs over 500 functions. Some of the important functions are :
- Forms and secretes bile that help with intestinal absorption of fats and fat soluble vitamins like vitamins A,D,E and K.
- The liver processes food arriving from the small intestine.
- It removes toxins from the blood.
- The liver synthesizes proteins, fats and carbohydrates and metabolises them.
- The heat that the liver generates while doing all this work helps to keep your body warm.
What can go wrong with my liver?
Like everything else, we need to take care of what we have and the liver is one of the most important things in your body which you need to be careful about. A number of things can go wrong with the liver through acquired diseases or inherited ones. The most common liver diseases are hepatitis, viral hepatitis, alcoholic liver disease, biliary disease, liver cancer, liver failure and other metabolic diseases. To get a more detailed idea of liver diseases take a look at diseases of the liver.
Why Does the Liver Fail?
Even though the liver is extremely resilient, sometimes it can malfunction or get diseased. If the problem is very severe, a liver transplantation may be the only answer. The most common liver diseases are acute hepatitis ( B or C), chronic hepatitis, fatty liver disease, cirrhosis (scarring) and cancer. These can be caused by viruses, abnormalities in the metabolic or immune system, genetic abnormalities or through the abuse of drugs and alcohol.
How Can Liver Failure be Prevented?
Prevention depends on the cause of failure, but simple lifestyle changes can help protect your liver.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and avoid processed foods as far as possible.
- Drink lots of water
- Say no to drugs and limit your use of alcohol
- Vaccinate yourself for hepatitis A and B
- Be aware that you can get Hepatitis C via infected needles or unprotected sex .
For more information, check out – Ten Tips to a Healthy Liver